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Author Topic: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!  (Read 984 times)

Jinxx

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So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« on: August 29, 2016, 02:25:01 am »
Hello and excuse my many questions in advance but I also thank you if you help!

I was born and raised a Christian. I have known many atheists, agnostics, Catholics and 2 wiccans in my time but lost my own faith at age 12 without having any place to go that felt a right fit. I never felt the conviction my Christian peers and family felt.

I am of Navajo shaman decent and, upon looking into the practices, I felt more at home but still a tad off. As far back as I can remember, I felt a unique sensation of the earth around me that my Christian family looked down on and shamed me for... so I kept it in secret in mind... I Felt a oneness with nature. I was attracted to lakes, mountains, streams, deserts of stone but most of all to forests. I am a city girl by default but in a natural forest surrounded by trees and the earthly smell of the soil beneath me is where I feel most comfortable and at home. As if I have known nothing else but this...

I currently identify with agnosticism but I decided to search for these similar feelings others have experienced and stumbled across paganism. Upon my reading, there is so much that I have in common with the natural side of the religion and culture but so much that goes unexplained on the interwebs.

Are there very distinct sub- religions  (for lack of a better word) to paganism? Or, much like Christianity, is it overall generalized? Must I choose a God or goddess to worship? Or may I choose to believe that the earth, that nature itself is sacred and nothing else? Would I need to abandon the spirit Animal that I believe my ancient many great grandfather has sent my way? Or could I keep it and hold it just as dear to me as I do now? Are there mentors I am able to seek guidance from? Or am I my own teacher? What are the traditions, sacred days and practices I have to look forward to in my future? Would I need to be initiated into the religion and culture by another, as is such in many other religions? What else should I know? Where can I find the most accurate information on this subject? I must know for, when I read about paganism I feel what I have never before felt. Conviction, even if slightly confused conviction.

I don't know if this will help but I had my spirit Animal come to me in a slumber brought on by a deep meditation. It was an otter. According to my ancestors, this represents something rather complex compared to most spirit animals so bare with me. Femininity, playfulness, intelligence, adept to change, curiosity, and vigilant. I would like to believe that I will be able to keep her close to me, should I see that paganism is my calling as she has gotten me through the mountains and sinkholes in life and was the only thing I felt familiar with and to in my long life of being lost on this religious seeking journey.

Please, if you have read this far, help me by giving me knowledge to my seemingly never ending questions.

Thank you in advance.

-Jinxx

Jenett

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2016, 09:27:37 am »
Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Hello and excuse my many questions in advance

Hi there, and welcome! We generally like questions around here!

Quote
Are there very distinct sub- religions  (for lack of a better word) to paganism? Or, much like Christianity, is it overall generalized?

There are, yes. This is because Paganism isn't actually a religion, but rather a term for a group of religions that have some things sort of in common.

My practice is initiatory religious witchcraft (in some ways similar to what you may have read or heard already about Wicca, and in some ways probably not): I have a site for people interested in religious witchcraft that has some background essays you might find helpful.

- What is Paganism (includes an overview of the larger common types of paths)
- Things Pagans (often) have in common
- Things Pagans don't always have in common

You may also find the Teens and Paganism FAQ put together by a variety of members of this forum helpful - despite the name it's useful for people of all ages.

Quote
Must I choose a God or goddess to worship? Or may I choose to believe that the earth, that nature itself is sacred and nothing else? Would I need to abandon the spirit Animal that I believe my ancient many great grandfather has sent my way? Or could I keep it and hold it just as dear to me as I do now?

These are questions that are going to depend on whether you decide to focus on a specific path within Paganism or combine aspects into your personal practice.

In most cases, if you decide you want to learn and practice a specific path shared with other people, there need to be things you have in common with them. For example, a specific religious witchcraft tradition may focus (for the rituals in that tradition) on particular deities, a reconstructionist path will work within the context of a specific culture and the deities and powers of that culture, and so on.)

For most paths, these commitments are not exclusive: in religious witchcraft, for example, it's quite common for people to do group rituals focusing on the deities of that tradition, but also have independent interactions with different deities (depending on their own preferences, choices, etc.) in ritual and daily life.

In terms of a spirit animal, that's going to vary too. As there have been more and more conversations about the issues of appropriation, more and more of the ethical folks out there who do not have heritage, cultural background, and suitable training in Native American / First Peoples / other indigenous cultures and religious practices have moved away from using terms like spirit animal or the frame works of 'there is a specific animal you work with'.

This is the kind of thing where it might be appropriate for you as an individual (depending on specifics of your background and how Navajo culture views the practice and when it's consider appropriate), but not something you'd find (or find done well and appropriately) in a modern Pagan group.

(To complicate this, there certainly are ways to interact with animals, plants, and other beings that have other origins than appropriative ones: it can sometimes be sort of hard to tell from the outside how a particular group handles it.)

Quote
Are there mentors I am able to seek guidance from? Or am I my own teacher? What are the traditions, sacred days and practices I have to look forward to in my future? Would I need to be initiated into the religion and culture by another, as is such in many other religions?

Again, this is going to depend a lot on which specific path we're talking about. If you wanted to just follow religious witchcraft in general, you would look at a variety of resources, build a path (the Seeking site I linked to above has a lot of material on this), and develop your own practices over time.

If, instead, you wished to join an existing path or group, you'd need to follow their guidelines for requesting to join, and then if accepted, you'd go through whatever their training, initiatory, or other processes involve.

For example, in my tradition (which is initiatory religious witchcraft), the process leading to initiation has a bunch of steps (because as a teacher in the tradition and the person doing the initiation, I'm connecting myself energetically to the student in a bunch of ways.) I start out by getting to know a potential student, then some low-key introductory material, then build toward the initiatory pieces over the course of a year or more. I'm only comfortable doing an initiation if I think it's the right choice for the person, for me, and for the tradition as a whole.

Initiation is never guaranteed, and it's not uncommon for people to get part way through pre-initiatory training and decide that a particular path or group isn't the right fit for them (or not right now) or for things to come up that make the potential initiator not willing to take that next step.

In non-initiatory traditions or paths, there may be some amount of standard training or material to be covered, as well, but full membership isn't determined by initiation in the same way. Sometimes there are standards of a larger organization, but an individual smaller group may have their particular ways of teaching, sharing information, and when they do ritual or how it's focused (and so it's also possible to like the larger organization's materials, but discover that the group or groups physically near you aren't doing things in a way that works for you.)

Quote
What else should I know? Where can I find the most accurate information on this subject?

Reading this forum is a good start! I suggest taking some time to read through things, even things that don't appear to be directly of interest to your particular goals, and following links. You can learn a lot both about specific topics, and about how different people go about the same question, practice, or idea by doing that, and also over time you can build up a good list of reliable resources.

Finding accurate information is - well, that depends what you mean! A lot of small paths (specific religious witchcraft traditions, specific small groups, etc.) don't have much material out there about them, even on the web, and the material that is there is usually from those groups or members themselves. People may change their minds over time, or have new experiences that change how they view things they experienced in the past.

I'm a librarian, and one of the things I talk about in the Pagan community is about how learning about Paganism isn't like the kind of research you learned about in school: we want to look at different aspects, hold information in our heads without labelling it as 'true' or 'false' or 'accurate' or 'inaccurate' or 'valid' or 'invalid' immediately, because something might be deeply meaningful to an individual, but rooted in some lousy history, or might be really well done history that produces a dry and emotionless experience, or all sorts of other options.

(Also, academic research methods don't tell us how to evaluate information we learn in ritual, meditation, divination, or other similar practices: Darkhawk has a good summary of this.)

I have a page on the Seeking site about research and how some of it applies to Pagan learning (I have plans for more, but I am hoping a chunk of it will be a book, so.) What's there should at least get you started with some different ways to look at information and evaluate it, though.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2016, 09:29:19 am by Jenett »
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Skumring

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2016, 10:58:05 am »
Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Please, if you have read this far, help me by giving me knowledge to my seemingly never ending questions.

Thank you in advance.

-Jinxx

 
What Jenett has said is pretty good advice.

I would add "be patient". It took me about 25 years to find mine and begin learning about it. It'll take some time for you as well. So, take your time and learn as much as you can! Good luck and don't forget to have fun.
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Jinxx

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2016, 03:38:15 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;195617
Hi there, and welcome! We generally like questions around here!



There are, yes. This is because Paganism isn't actually a religion, but rather a term for a group of religions that have some things sort of in common.

My practice is initiatory religious witchcraft (in some ways similar to what you may have read or heard already about Wicca, and in some ways probably not): I have a site for people interested in religious witchcraft that has some background essays you might find helpful.

- What is Paganism (includes an overview of the larger common types of paths)
- Things Pagans (often) have in common
- Things Pagans don't always have in common

You may also find the Teens and Paganism FAQ put together by a variety of members of this forum helpful - despite the name it's useful for people of all ages.



These are questions that are going to depend on whether you decide to focus on a specific path within Paganism or combine aspects into your personal practice.

In most cases, if you decide you want to learn and practice a specific path shared with other people, there need to be things you have in common with them. For example, a specific religious witchcraft tradition may focus (for the rituals in that tradition) on particular deities, a reconstructionist path will work within the context of a specific culture and the deities and powers of that culture, and so on.)

For most paths, these commitments are not exclusive: in religious witchcraft, for example, it's quite common for people to do group rituals focusing on the deities of that tradition, but also have independent interactions with different deities (depending on their own preferences, choices, etc.) in ritual and daily life.

In terms of a spirit animal, that's going to vary too. As there have been more and more conversations about the issues of appropriation, more and more of the ethical folks out there who do not have heritage, cultural background, and suitable training in Native American / First Peoples / other indigenous cultures and religious practices have moved away from using terms like spirit animal or the frame works of 'there is a specific animal you work with'.

This is the kind of thing where it might be appropriate for you as an individual (depending on specifics of your background and how Navajo culture views the practice and when it's consider appropriate), but not something you'd find (or find done well and appropriately) in a modern Pagan group.

(To complicate this, there certainly are ways to interact with animals, plants, and other beings that have other origins than appropriative ones: it can sometimes be sort of hard to tell from the outside how a particular group handles it.)



Again, this is going to depend a lot on which specific path we're talking about. If you wanted to just follow religious witchcraft in general, you would look at a variety of resources, build a path (the Seeking site I linked to above has a lot of material on this), and develop your own practices over time.

If, instead, you wished to join an existing path or group, you'd need to follow their guidelines for requesting to join, and then if accepted, you'd go through whatever their training, initiatory, or other processes involve.

For example, in my tradition (which is initiatory religious witchcraft), the process leading to initiation has a bunch of steps (because as a teacher in the tradition and the person doing the initiation, I'm connecting myself energetically to the student in a bunch of ways.) I start out by getting to know a potential student, then some low-key introductory material, then build toward the initiatory pieces over the course of a year or more. I'm only comfortable doing an initiation if I think it's the right choice for the person, for me, and for the tradition as a whole.

Initiation is never guaranteed, and it's not uncommon for people to get part way through pre-initiatory training and decide that a particular path or group isn't the right fit for them (or not right now) or for things to come up that make the potential initiator not willing to take that next step.

In non-initiatory traditions or paths, there may be some amount of standard training or material to be covered, as well, but full membership isn't determined by initiation in the same way. Sometimes there are standards of a larger organization, but an individual smaller group may have their particular ways of teaching, sharing information, and when they do ritual or how it's focused (and so it's also possible to like the larger organization's materials, but discover that the group or groups physically near you aren't doing things in a way that works for you.)



Reading this forum is a good start! I suggest taking some time to read through things, even things that don't appear to be directly of interest to your particular goals, and following links. You can learn a lot both about specific topics, and about how different people go about the same question, practice, or idea by doing that, and also over time you can build up a good list of reliable resources.

Finding accurate information is - well, that depends what you mean! A lot of small paths (specific religious witchcraft traditions, specific small groups, etc.) don't have much material out there about them, even on the web, and the material that is there is usually from those groups or members themselves. People may change their minds over time, or have new experiences that change how they view things they experienced in the past.

I'm a librarian, and one of the things I talk about in the Pagan community is about how learning about Paganism isn't like the kind of research you learned about in school: we want to look at different aspects, hold information in our heads without labelling it as 'true' or 'false' or 'accurate' or 'inaccurate' or 'valid' or 'invalid' immediately, because something might be deeply meaningful to an individual, but rooted in some lousy history, or might be really well done history that produces a dry and emotionless experience, or all sorts of other options.

(Also, academic research methods don't tell us how to evaluate information we learn in ritual, meditation, divination, or other similar practices: Darkhawk has a good summary of this.)

I have a page on the Seeking site about research and how some of it applies to Pagan learning (I have plans for more, but I am hoping a chunk of it will be a book, so.) What's there should at least get you started with some different ways to look at information and evaluate it, though.

 
Thank you! This has been extremely helpful on starting me on a more effective path! And thank you for being so kind and open in you're response. :) I had one more question.

If and when I began the path of a pagan, whichever path that included,  would you know if my Christian peers would believe I would be damned to their hell? I'm having a hard time bringing myself to confide to them my search in this. Growing up my mother and father always told me that whoever practices witchcraft of any kind is damned for eternity. I do not wish to tell them if paganism falls under that belief as I know wiccans do.

Thank you again so very much.

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2016, 04:01:12 pm »
Quote from: Jinxx;195684
If and when I began the path of a pagan, whichever path that included,  would you know if my Christian peers would believe I would be damned to their hell?

 
That very much depends on the Christians in question.

I've personally very little experience with that sort of Christian, but I suspect given your description of your parents' attitudes you'd likely find more of them than I have.
as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

RecycledBenedict

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2016, 05:29:31 pm »
Quote from: Jinxx;195605
I was born and raised a Christian. I have known many atheists, agnostics, Catholics and 2 wiccans in my time


Just remember, that Catholics are Christians, too. They belong to the largest Christian denomination (about 50% of Christianity).

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
As far back as I can remember, I felt a unique sensation of the earth around me that my Christian family looked down on and shamed me for...


Your family doesn't appreciate Christian writers like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bonaventure, I presume. St. Francis and St. Bonaventure had a positive view of our natural surroundings.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Are there very distinct sub- religions  (for lack of a better word) to paganism?


Yes: Among others:

  • Druidry (several different sorts)
  • Pantheism
  • Traditional Wiccans
  • Eclectic Wiccans
  • Witchcraft (several different sorts)
  • Feraferia
  • Church of All Worlds
  • Reconstruction of Mesopotamian religion
  • Reconstruction of Egyptian religion before 333 BCE
  • Reconstruction of Syro-Lebanese religion
  • Reconstruction of the religion in Thrace and Dacia
  • Reconstruction of Greek religion
  • Reconstruction of Roman religion
  • Reconstruction of religion in late Antiquity (all of the above fused, including Anatolian religion)
  • Reconstruction of Germanic religion, including Norse and Anglo-Saxon
  • Reconstruction of the religion in Gaul
  • Reconstruction of Welsh religion
  • Reconstruction of Irish religion
  • Reconstruction of Slavic religion
  • Reconstruction of Baltic religion
  • Reconstruction of Finnish religion


Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Must I choose a God or goddess to worship?


No. You are allowed to if you want, but a Pantheist wouldn't, and some Druids and witches don't.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Or may I choose to believe that the earth, that nature itself is sacred and nothing else?


That sounds like Pantheism to me.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Would I need to abandon the spirit Animal that I believe my ancient many great grandfather has sent my way? Or could I keep it and hold it just as dear to me as I do now?


Adherence to several religions is a fairly frequent choice within Paganism.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Are there mentors I am able to seek guidance from?


Yes, for particular religious paths, but not about Paganism as an umbrella term. It is not mandatory.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Or am I my own teacher?


Yes, if you want to. I am under the impression that most Pagans nurture their personal independence. Read lots of books, and acquire the ability to distinguish between well-founded arguments and bullshit. Meditation is useful for many persons, but perhaps not for everyone.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
What are the traditions, sacred days and practices I have to look forward to in my future?


That depends on which path you chose. The Roman calendar and the eight-festival cycle Wiccans and Druids share (just to mention two out of many) do not have much in common. The same is true if you compare other Pagan calendars of festivals to each other.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Would I need to be initiated into the religion and culture by another, as is such in many other religions?


For Traditional Wicca: Yes, definitely.
For some, but far from all, forms of Druidry: Yes, but not in the other cases (I am a non-initiated practitioner of Druidry).
For most forms of reconstructionism: Definitely not.
For reconstructions of ancient mystery religions: Yes.

Quote from: Jinxx;195605
Where can I find the most accurate information on this subject?


Some questions are about history. These questions are better answered by historians, than by paperback authors with questionable historical knowledge. I have seen some pretty weird claims in the past about potatoes and maize in Ireland before Columbus, written by American Pagans in the 1990s.

Some questions are about how to achieve altered states of consciousness. These questions are better answered by someone with experience of altered states of consciousness. Most historians are probably not suited for that purpose.

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Re: So many questions with so few answers. Please help!
« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2016, 06:47:16 pm »
Quote from: Jinxx;195684
Thank you! This has been extremely helpful on starting me on a more effective path! And thank you for being so kind and open in you're response. :) I had one more question.


You're welcome!

(One quick note about quoting: you got all the quote codes right, which is great. However, if you're quoting a big long piece - um, like I tend to write - it's a lot easier for people reading the thread  if you cut out most of the parts you're not directly referring to. Leave a sentence or two (or you can do like RecycledBenedict did, later in the thread, and quote lots of segments) but you don't need to quote the whole thing.

To be clear, you need to include the initial bit which has the linking code, and the closing code. If you need more help or want to practice, you can try that out the Test Forum folder.)

Quote

If and when I began the path of a pagan, whichever path that included,  would you know if my Christian peers would believe I would be damned to their hell? I'm having a hard time bringing myself to confide to them my search in this. Growing up my mother and father always told me that whoever practices witchcraft of any kind is damned for eternity. I do not wish to tell them if paganism falls under that belief as I know wiccans do.


As Darkhawk says, it's going to depend on the Christians.

First, you might find another essay on my Seeking site possibly helpful in working through some different groups of people. My usual advice to people is to take your time before telling people, especially if you're not really sure what you want to do yet, you know they'll have a bad reaction to the exploration, or something like that - but tell them *before* they're going to notice it on their own.

(So, a partner you live with - or parents you live with - is a bit different than if your parents live some distance away from you, for example.)
 
The reasons that specific Christians have issues with Paganism as a whole vary, but there's a couple of big possible ones:

1) Witchcraft: There is a line in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18, specifically) that is sometimes translated "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".

However, there's a lot of discussion about whether 'witch' is the appropriate word: some people argue that it means 'poisoner', some people argue for 'sorceress' with some cultural notes about what that meant at that place and time, there are a couple of other possible arguments.

There's an older article that explains in more detail: I know I've seen some more recent analyses (and the one I just linked to may be outdated) but it should give you a place to start with.

Even if one does translate the term as 'witch', there's lots of different ways that term is used, and people who use it - many cultures (including some Christian ones) have been okay with some kinds of magical practices (like healing, protection, good crops and prosperity, things that strengthen the family or other social unit, etc.) while not being okay with things that manipulate other people, destroy families or social units,

(Sometimes you can see these in really interesting ways: we have a lot of data about, for example, what crimes involving magic were prosecuted in Renaissance Florence, and most of the ones that lead to actual punishments are about destroying the family unit or hurting other people. Love magic to make your arranged-marriage spouse like you better? Just fine. Lust magic to lure your lover away from his family and children and give you all his money? Really not fine.)

Anyway. Depending on what translation of the Bible the Christians you're concerned about use, how strongly they feel that is the one true possible translation, and so on, you're going to get different responses on this point.

2) Polytheism (or rather, anything other than monotheism or trinitarianism)

One other place people who are Christian have concerns (and these are more clear cut, really) is that Pagans who are honouring other gods than the Christian one (or the Christian trinity, depending on theology) are not following the commandment of "Have no other gods before me."

(Other people argue this is 'before' not 'as well as' and we get into translation and cultural context issues again.)

Anyway, in this case, most people who think like that tend to treat any deity who is not the Christian one as being evil / wrong / bad / etc. Pagans don't think this, but it's a sort of hard argument to convince someone about if they're really set on what they think.

3) Social and church training that teaches them that anything that is not their form of practice is wrong / evil / bad / not to be tolerated - and that the nuances I've mentioned in the above questions aren't relevant, shouldn't even be considered.

Again, there's not much one can do against this one from outside those communities, if someone isn't already willing to think about their beliefs and why they're there. In more liberal Christian denominations, or basically most of the ones where people are encouraged to learn on their own, as well as getting information from the church they attend, this one isn't nearly such an issue.

What this means: Having some idea which of the reasons apply in your case can sometimes help you navigate. Sometimes if you can figure out the thing that someone thinks is most wrong, you can educate them or give them stuff to think about.

Sometimes it'll be clear that there really isn't much you can do - you can not tell these people what you're doing, you can make a deliberate break, but there isn't much in between space possible unless they make some unexpected changes on their side. (Sometimes people do, but it's usually not a thing you can count on.)

(In my case, in case the example's any help: my mother is a well-educated Catholic who is moderately liberal in her view of the Church, and is quite content with the idea other religions have truth and value - but it still took her a number of years to get her head around the fact this wasn't a phase for me, or how I defined magic wasn't what she thought it was (at least 80% of my magical work is psychology and self-awareness, not the superstition stuff she assumed, and once I explained that in a way that made sense to her, a lot of stuff got easier to talk about. I also pointed out things that I knew mattered to her that I was finding in my religious life that were much harder to find in Catholicism. For example, the ability to create and run rituals on my own, which being female was not so much of an option there.)
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